CULTURE

Who Is this Strange Man Lurking Behind Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?

His face speaks to the pain and fear of renewed hope.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

America cannot help itself when it comes to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

Brad Jen Sag 2 Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Anytime they're in the same room together, a series of sirens immediately goes off in the offices of various tabloids and celebrity magazines. A familiar race kicks off to publish an updated carbon copy of a thousand previous articles with a handful of new pictures and some wild speculation about the two of them getting back together.

It's been happening since they divorced, 15 years ago, but has obviously accelerated since they both became single—Aniston having divorced Justin Theroux in 2017, while Pitt and Angelina Jolie finalized their prolonged divorce process last summer. We seem to have collectively decided that we all know these celebrities' lives better than they know themselves.

The story goes like this: Brad and Jen should never have broken up. The early 2000s were clearly the happiest time in both their lives, and the whole mess in 2005 was just one big misunderstanding orchestrated by Jolie's evil seduction on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. We want them to need each other, and we need them to want to get back together. How we pieced together the entirety of their private lives through telephoto lenses and third-hand rumors remains a mystery, but we've done it, and we know what's best for them. We just know.

Brad and Jen Sag Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

That's what makes the strange man lurking in the background of their latest interaction so upsetting. It's unclear what his role at the SAG Awards was—a member of security? Event staff? Brad and Jen were nominated for their performances in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Morning Showthey both won—but what is this tall, broad shouldered stranger doing there? He seems designed to project strength, but he just can't. Not with the scene that's unfolding before him—with Jen's hand pressing against Brad's chest, Brad holding her wrist as if to make that touch linger a little longer. The strange man lurking in the background is allowing his pain to show through his façade of strength. He is wounded. Wringing his hands. He's been burned by this hope before—allowed himself to feel a glimmer of love again through the imagined restoration of this lost, perfect couple.

And now Brad has quit drinking and settled the custody dispute with Jolie. We can't help but wonder if he is finally mature enough to be stable and strong for Jen—who is two years out from her second marriage and looked as amazing as ever in a sheer, silvery-white dress. And there in the background, those pleading eyes are staring at Brad Pitt, begging him not to hurt us again. Don't hold onto her hand like that if you don't mean it. Don't look into her shining eyes with that charming smile if you aren't ready to commit to an entire country full of desperate shippers.

I don't know who the large, sad man in these pictures is, but I don't need to, because we are all him, and he is us—wanting to believe in love again, but so frightened of being hurt.

sag lurker 2 Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

TV

Every Character in "Friends" Is a Massive Piece of Poop

Every character in "Friends" is just a big ol' piece of poop. Here's why.

Warner Bros. Television

Friends is a hilarious show beloved by many people.

We know this because we can hear people laughing throughout the entirety of every episode, which means it must be very funny.

But why, then, am I never laughing? I have a great sense of humor. Nobody appreciates a farcical series of misunderstandings more than I do. Two goofy guys confusing one baby with another baby, because men are inherently incapable of being responsible with children––now that's what I call funny. So how come when Joey and Chandler did it on Friends, I didn't even chuckle? Was it because my own failing relationship with my father made me realize that Chandler's children would be doomed to an inevitable cycle of self-destructive behavior, just like me? Or is it possible that Friends actually just sucks?

friends fountain The most likable character on FriendsWarner Bros. Television

After all, I've never actually seen anyone laugh during Friends. I've only ever heard the TV studio audience laughing in the background, but I've worked in live TV and know for a fact that they have "Laugh" prompters to ensure maximal hilarity. If it's forced, does that laughter even really count? I'm starting to think that Friends might never have been funny.

Rather, Friends is remembered through rose-colored glasses, the beneficiary of pre-9/11 nostalgia from a time when coal miners still had jobs, comic books were still for nerds, and I didn't live in constant fear of being shot for writing aggressively anti-Friends articles on the Internet.

Mainly, my point is that, looking back, every character in Friends is just a big ol' piece of poop. Here's why:

Ross Geller

ross geller Warner Bros. Television

Friends plays Ross off as a lovably awkward nerd. Sure, he's neurotic, but he's also nice and kind-hearted and well-meaning. Except that's a heap of bull, because in reality, Ross is an emotional leech, systematically starting and then sabotaging relationships with women due to his toxic relationship with Rachel. Ross is fully incapable of holding a meaningful relationship with anyone else, going so far as to say Rachel's name during his wedding vows to another woman. In spite of this, Ross continually pursues new relationships, sabotaging his partner's life until the relationship falls apart, usually due to some shenanigans involving Rachel.

HAHA it's so funny that Ross's selfish toxicity probably leads to long-lasting hang-ups for any woman unlucky enough to enter his sallow-faced orbit. Also, his victims include a 20-year old student he was teaching as a professor, whose father he blackmails in order to avoid being rightfully outed to his university for his unconscionable abuse of authority. Ross is straight-up a bad person.

Rachel Green

rachel green Warner Bros. Television

Rachel and Ross really do deserve each other, which is to say that Rachel is also a monster. On top of being selfish, petty, and a compulsive liar, she's basically the embodiment of every "nice guy" straw man about girls who lead them on. Despite the fact that she's clearly not sexually attracted to Ross during the majority of the series (because seriously, why would she be?), she thrives on his attention and romantic interest for validation. If Rachel had any sense of decency she would cut Ross off, but instead, she not only continues stoking his romantic flame but goes so far as to sabotage his relationships with other women out of jealousy.

Rachel is borderline psychotic, and the best part about her and Ross finally becoming an item at the end of the series is the knowledge that neither of them will continue damaging innocent peoples' lives on the New York dating scene.

Joey Tribbiani

joey tribbiani Warner Bros. Television

Joey is a sexual predator. He aggressively harasses every woman he sees, spreading his dumb "How you doin'?" catchphrase around the New York dating scene like one of the many STDs he almost definitely has. He uses his position as a semi-famous actor to sleep with extras and interns on his show, which is, at best, the sort of abusive power dynamic that would almost certainly get him #MeToo'd nowadays. And yet, because he's borderline mentally disabled (he once got a turkey stuck on his head) and likes eating meatballs, it's all supposed to be funny? Well, it's not.

Joey's also a pretty awful friend, dating one of his supposed best friend's exes, which goes against literally every friend code imaginable. It's no wonder that his spin-off show, Joey, was a terrible flop. Whoever thought this godawful character could carry his own show probably also thought that Matt LeBlanc was a good actor.

Phoebe Buffay

phoebe buffay Warner Bros. Television

Okay, Phoebe isn't an assh*le so much as she's just completely unbelievable in every capacity. She's basically the proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a hyper-problematic, typically hipster-esque stereotype whose entire personality revolves around being "LOL SO RANDOM XD" and #QUIRKY. There are absolutely no real people like this (repressed childhood traumas usually aren't played for laughs in real life, either); and if there are, their personalities are entirely fabricated, because nobody wants to be around them for extended periods of time.

On second thought, the possibility that people who behave like this might be modeling themselves off a horrendous trend that could be partially sourced to Phoebe might make her the absolute worst steaming pile of poo poo in the entire show.

Chandler Bing

chandler bing Warner Bros. Television

Chandler is, admittedly, the least sh*tty of the Friends boys, but don't worry. He's still a big meaty dump. See, Chandler's entire personality revolves around being a sarcastic asshat to everyone he meets. Oh, but it's just a defense mechanism. Cool, in the real world, there's a word for people who act like jerks as a defense mechanism: unlikable. Chandler also keeps Joey around mainly to feel like he's better and smarter than someone else. And while it's hard to feel bad for Joey (again, the guy is a bona fide sexual predator), he's also operating with a sub-optimal IQ. This makes him especially vulnerable to a bad faith friend like Chandler, who gets mad over Joey doing expectedly stupid things like buying an ugly friendship bracelet.

Like, what did Chandler want? That's one step up from thinking you can train a pet duckling and chick to live in a New York apartment. Nice one, Chandler.

Monica Geller

monica geller Warner Bros. Television

Unlike everyone else on Friends, Monica isn't really a terrible person. She's kind of bossy, but she's also generally nice and hard-working. Unfortunately, she's also kind of the main linchpin of the Friends group. Horrible, deceptively meek manipulator Ross is her no-good brother. Jealous, psychopathic Rachel is her best friend. She married Chandler, who's an arrogant prick. She's not responsible for Joey (that's on Chandler), but she did meet him early on and probably should have put an end to his participation in the group after he basically immediately sexually assaulted her. But she is responsible for Phoebe, who was vaguely her roommate initially or something.

And you gotta wonder, if one person is exclusively friends with terrible people who compound one another's worst traits and ruin the lives of basically everyone they encounter, doesn't that person have to be kind of terrible, too?

TV

Jennifer Aniston Is Ready for Her Triumphant Return to TV in "The Morning Show"

"Watching a beloved woman's breakdown is timeless American entertainment."

Apple TV

Almost two years ago, Apple TV announced their plan to launch a streaming service, along with an epic project—a show starring and executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

On Monday, The Morning Show released its first official trailer. The highly anticipated show will dive into the interpersonal drama of broadcast journalism: the network politics of a newsroom, strong-willed executives, and anchors' struggles against ageism, all the while vying for America's hearts.

The trailer begins with Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) sitting alone at her desk and announcing that her co-host of 15 years, Mitch Kesser (Steve Carell), was fired for undisclosed allegations, suggesting that the show will unpack the effects of the MeToo movement. Then, insert Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), a hard-hitting, on the ground reporter recruited to join the show's staff and ready to shake things up. Cue the drama between a younger, rising star and a seasoned, beloved host as they're pitted against one another. Throw in a couple of male showrunners and executives (played by Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass) to exasperate those tensions, and you've got Apple TV's first hit show!

Watch the first trailer below:

The Morning Show — Official Trailer | Apple TV+ www.youtube.com

FILM

"Murder Mystery" Could've Been So Much Better, Which Makes It So Much Worse

Every Adam Sandler movie is an idiot's guide to subtext.

With an estimated budget of $15 billion in 2019, Netflix will green light any project with sound, shapes, and colors.

But Adam Sandler's deal with Netflix testifies to the genius behind Netflix's approach to content: burnouts sell. The sixth and latest Netflix spectacle from Sandler's Happy Madison productions, Murder Mystery, is a streamable trainwreck. The comedy strays from Sandler's signature slapstick and potty humor and banks on the 52-year-old's only other comedic persona as a working-class schlub (who better to play an average down-and-out American than a comedian worth $420 million). The film makes use of every murder mystery trope (down to a cartoonish image of the stars riding the Orient Express), but its attempts at satire and homage are too half-hearted to constitute meta-commentary or nostalgia.

Murder Mystery | Trailer | Netflix youtu.be

Jennifer Aniston costars with Sandler in the pair's second attempt at playing love interests despite their lackluster chemistry. Nick and Audrey Spitz are a tepid New York City couple approaching their 15th wedding anniversary. Nick is a weathered cop who's just failed the detective exam for the third time, and Audrey is a chatty hairdresser obsessed with true crime novels. Being the milquetoast husband that he is, Nick lies that he's being promoted to detective and he's using his new salary to take his wife to Europe like he's always promised. When the couple meets wealthy playboy Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) on their flight, Audrey describes him as "the bad guy" straight out of her murder mystery novels, because every Adam Sandler movie is an idiot's guide to subtext.

The film, like most of Sandler's features, is structured like a stream of standup bits, with Nick Spitz's brilliant callbacks being "I'm hungry as sh*t" or "I'm tired as sh*t." Aubrey's recurring bit is being in constant need of Claritin for her allergies, which at least ends up serving some purpose in the formulaic plot. The dashing Cavendish improbably invites the couple to cruise the Mediterranean on his billionaire uncle's private yacht, where everyone on board witnesses the patriarch's murder. Did the butler do it? Who cares? Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt clearly phoned in the script, and director Kyle Newacheck (Workaholics) got to take the cast and crew around the world on a working vacation. Filming locations included Milan, Lake Como, and Santa Margherita Ligure.

A film like Murder Mystery would be far more forgivable, perhaps even a passable campy romp, if we hadn't seen Aniston and Sandler at their best in 2002. After Aniston's critically acclaimed performance as a depressed housewife in The Good Girl and Sandler's rare display of nuanced layers in Punch Drunk Love, it hurts to see Aniston running from a weird masked assailant with a blow dart gun in perpetually pressed sundresses and wedge sandals while Sandler takes his gifted comedic timing for granted with bored deliveries.

But why should Sandler try? After his 2015 deal with Netflix, he's guaranteed a steady audience, no matter what he phones in. According to Netflix's numbers, between 2015 and 2017 users streamed a total of 500 million hours of Sandler's films. Reporter Ben Fritz debunked the method to Netflix's madness in The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies: "The mid-budget star vehicle, in other words, still worked great for Netflix. When people went to theaters, they preferred brand-name franchises. But when they were browsing for something to stream rather than pay fifty dollars for a night out, a familiar face doing the familiar shtick was perfect."

"They get their money whether you loved the movie or hated it," Fritz adds. Murder Mystery is exactly the kind of film you half commit to streaming in the background. Every so often you'll catch a one-liner that makes you giggle or glimpse Adam Sandler falling down, and you'll remember a simpler time when fart jokes and man-child garble was hilarious, and you'll let it play.

FILM & TV

Netflix's MANIAC uses Traumatic Throwback

The new miniseries travels through time and treats trauma with high-tech therapy.

Drugs and lucid dreams probably won't cure the protagonists of Netflix's Maniac, but they've enrolled in a pharmaceutical trial that promises it's possible.

Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) submit their troubled minds to Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux), who tests a new drug treatment that purportedly cures psychic pain.

The creative forces behind Maniac, a loose adaptation of a Norwegian TV show of the same name, include writer Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) and director Cary Joki Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation). They frame Owen and Annie as disaffected adults paralyzed in moments of existential crisis, a hallmark of postmodern life in an alienating world that's rife with ads and facsimiles replacing human connection. The cause of detachment is also the putative cure, as services like AdBuddy allow you to earn supplemental income in exchange for a human representative trailing after your daily movements and reading you ad after ad aloud. Friend Proxy allows you to schedule hangouts with hired strangers pretending to be your oldest friends. A dubious service called Dox Stop offers to "scrub" or "unscrub" citizens' most private records for a fee.

Business Insider

Yet, the technological landscape of Maniac is a re-imagining of today's media-laden culture with a retro-futuristic twist. Blocky computer monitors and grainy dial televisions dot the background as the co-creators' '80s throwbacks from the IBM boom. In an interview with Vulture, Somerville teases, "Something happened in the '90s." He adds, "There's a break, but at the same time, it's our world now in terms of the ideas that lay behind AdBuddy and Friend Proxy and Dox Stop. It's all just dressed up in a different way. Hopefully, it's relatable to now."

Relatability is at the heart of Maniac's conflict. Both characters live in the bubbles of their past traumas, barely engaging in the moment and often getting it wrong when they do. When Dr. Mantleray sits impassively at his desk across from Owen, he asks, "What do you think is wrong with you?" Owen's answer is flat and characteristically monotone: "I'm sick. And I don't matter."

In that regard, Owen and Annie are two misfits at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Owen struggles to break through his somnambulant affect to connect with others. He decides to become a test subject after being pressured by his affluent family to cure his neurodivergent mind by any means necessary. Annie, on the other hand, is a loner who refuses to engage with reality and undermines every emotional connection that threatens to link her happiness to another's. For instance, Episode 3 begins to mine Annie's motivations behind joining the drug trial, which she barely accomplishes using manipulation, deceit, and threats of bodily harm. "Every time I take that pill," she shares in a spasm of emotional intimacy, "I have to live through the worst day of my life. I have to listen to myself say the worst, ugliest things I have ever said to anyone. And it ends with the worst thing that ever happened. I fucking love it."

For facing trauma is the first step in the test subjects' treatment. Pill A forces individuals to confront the traumatic event at the source of their dysfunctional defense mechanisms, allowing us to witness firsthand the cause and effect of Owen and Annie's genuinely off-putting social quirks. Step two in the trial is behavioral modification via directing the subjects' subconsciouses to embody their alter egos. This leads to a stint of modular stories told in the middle of the series, and it opens the door for Somerville and Fukunaga to upturn their grab-bag of genre-bending visuals and occasionally gory violence (Maniac is rated TV-MA, after all). The series' world-building becomes fractal with storylines that include a lemur lost on Long Island, a mafia son played by a plaited-haired Hill, and a fantasy quest led by an elvin-eared Stone.

USA Today

Somerville purposefully embraced the capricious whims of storytelling in the creation of Maniac, telling Deadline, "Everyone knew the tone of what the show was. All the major actors had read everything. They knew the show was absolutely bonkers. What we were asking them to do was to play emotional realism against that, to ground it." Indeed, Maniac avoids weaknesses in structure and develops would-be inchoate themes with the stalwart presence of Dr. Mantleray's lab. Owen and Annie's dual (and curiously overlapping) streams of consciousness, carefully monitored within the increasingly out-of-control drug trial, drive the series' explorations of identity, trauma, and emotional connection.

The title "Maniac" encapsulates the irreverent tone, episodic structure, and meandering themes explored in the miniseries' first season (if Netflix orders a second season, it won't have Fukugana reclaiming the mantle of director). "Are the characters maniacs?" and "Is the world maniacal?" are not the core questions driving the narrative; but, they voice the anxieties of a chaotic world that questions unilateral existence and delves into dreamscapes of alternate realities, multiple personalities, and divergent thinking as the norm.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.



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FILM & TV

BOX OFFICE BREAKDOWN | A Walk Down Memory Lane

AUGUST 3RD-5TH | What's Coming to Theaters This Weekend

comicbook.com

The hot summer days have blurred into August and the hotter films just keep coming.

In Popdust's column, Box Office Breakdown, we aim to inform you of the top flicks to check out every weekend depending on what you're in the mood to enjoy. Looking to laugh? What about having your pants scared off? Maybe you just need a little love? Whatever the case may be, we have you covered. Take a peek at our top picks for this week…

The Darkest Minds

Teenagers suddenly develop a slew of weird abilities, but the government is not feeling it, so they decide to send them away to detention camps. Sounds totally normal given the state of our union. Ruby, however, manages to escape from this camp and joins a group of other runaways. Together, they are going to try and fight the adults and take back the future that is theirs.

Purchase Tickets for The Darkest Minds

PG-13 | Running Time 1hr 44m | 20th Century Fox | Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring: Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore, Amandla Stenberg, and more!

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